Capturing hidden energy flows at mines
SmartH2OEnergy studies hydro potential for Peruvian mines Metal Tech News – May 4, 2022
Last updated 5/3/2022 at 1:41pm
Nearly every mine on Earth has a source of potential low-carbon energy that remains largely untapped – the natural surface waters flowing into, through and out of the operation. Germany-based SmartH2OEnergy, however, is investigating an innovative approach that transforms the potential of waters from various mining processes into energy that can help power the operation.
Along with wind and solar, hydropower is a great source of zero-carbon electricity for power-hungry mining operations. Establishing hydroelectric facilities, however, is often challenged by other uses of the streams, environmental concerns related to damming or diverting water flows, and local opposition.
SmartH2OEnergy – a consortium that includes Dr. Thomas Hillig Energy Consulting (THEnergy), two leading technical universities in Germany, and the backing of roughly US$1 million in support by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research – is studying a new approach that captures the hydropower potential within the existing footprint of mines in Peru.
Enriched with metals and dominated by the Peruvian Andes, this South American country provides the ideal mountainous environment to maximize the latent hydro-potential within a mine. And, considering that mining accounts for 36% of all the energy consumed in Peru (as of 2015), tapping a dormant source of power within a mine could help reduce the load this rapidly growing sector puts on the electrical grid.
The potential electricity a traditional hydropower facility can produce is primarily determined by the quantity of water discharged and the head pressure of that water. The steep terrain of the Andes, where many Peruvian mines are located, provides plentiful elevation change to create a head to leverage the water available within the existing mining footprint.
One of the primary challenges to capturing the hydro-potential within a mine is the sediments resulting from processing and other activities at an active operation would quickly wear out conventional turbines used at most hydropower plants.
To overcome this, the SmartH2OEnergy project is working on tailor-made turbines with a special design coating that allows them to generate electricity with the gritty water without wearing out.
THEnergy founder Thomas Hillig told Metal Tech News that retrofitting a hydropower system solution into existing mining operations is also challenging.
"At many mines, different departments have the responsibility for mining processes and for energy," he said.
The project, which started in 2019, has identified several mines in the Peruvian Andes to apply the technology it has developed through various simulations of theoretical scenarios but only recently has been afforded the opportunity to verify at a mine due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Though SmartH2OEnergy is piloting this hydro-technology in Peru, the idea is to expand its use to other mountainous mining locations where there is high hydropower potential waiting to be captured within the mine site.
Whether capturing latent hydro-potential, harnessing wind and solar, or leveraging other untapped energy sources, Hillig says the SmartH2OEnergy project provides a preview of the energy harnessing systems that will be incorporated into future mines.
"It will be key to optimizing the various processes regarding energy efficiency and integrating as many renewables as possible," Hillig said.